A hands-on approach to history

September 26, 2018

MICHIGAN CITY — Big family fun at little cost.

That sums up the 27th annual Pioneer Days held at Creek Ridge County Park, 7943W CR-400N, this past Saturday and Sunday.

This year there were plenty of hands-on activities, educational demonstrations, delicious food samples and more at this annual event, which saw more than 3,000 in attendance this past weekend.

Lillian Richardson of La Porte and her mother Gabi Richardson were deep in concentration as they worked on tin-punching a cow drawing. Gabi said they’d already tried out candle-dipping, taken a ride on the horse-drawn wagon, ate some of the ham and bean soup and kettle corn made at the event, “and visited the playground, of course.”

“I love it because it’s still the same. We don’t have to drive far and it doesn’t cost very much,” said Gabi, who’s been attending the event since 2004.

Niki Schmutte, Chief Naturalist for La Porte County Parks, said that the fee of $2 for adults and $1 for children and seniors is the same admission cost as when the event began in 1991.

“Our goal is to make it an affordable event. A lot of the activities are by donation only,” Schmutte said. “I’m proud of the fact that we’ve kept it low. It’s not about us making money for us. It’s about providing a service for the community.”

Jessica Henry was enjoying the beautiful day with her three children: 8-year-old Jayden Henry, 5-year-old Rosalee Henry and 2-year-old Brantley Henry. She’d seen the event on Facebook and “wanted to do something different with them today.” It was the first time they attended Pioneer Days, and the kids kept busy making necklaces out of shells, beads, acorn tops, pinecones and more at the booth of Jack and Darlene Sturken.

“I grew up just down the road. I used to come to this park when I was little and play on the playground,” Henry said.

The Boys Scout Troop #321 out of La Porte kept busy as they served “pudding nudgies” and homemade apple butter to visitors. The scouts took biscuits, filled them with pudding, placed them on a stick and cooked them on an open fire to make the pudding nudgies. During the event, apple butter was also made over an open fire and stirred continuously for eight hours.

This was the eighth year that the Boy Scouts participated in Pioneer Days. The troop, which consists of 14 active boys ages 12-18, camps at the park beginning Friday night. They help set up for the event, walked the grounds to make sure that there were no safety hazards and assisted with parking on Saturday and Sunday.

Scout Master Greg Smith said, “The good thing is the interaction with the young folks in the community. It’s a win-win. We get to meet the community and give back to the park. It’s a busy two days. Anytime that they get to have a chance to give back to La Porte County, they do so. They’re a close-knit troop with a family feel.”

New this year was a booth by Bernachhi’s Oak Valley Greenhouses in La Porte. Staff member Sarah Bernacchi was on hand to answer attendee’s questions about native plants and their importance.

“We’re trying to educate people on how important pollinators are and how growing natives can help improve the life and sustainability of pollinators,” she explained.

For example, hummingbirds are attracted to foxglove beardtongue and cardinal flower; butterflies prefer common milkweed, and honeybees and bumblebees prefer great blue lobelia, she said. The sweet black-eyed susan and smooth rose mallow hibiscus attract all pollinators. These and the other plants for sale at the booth were all perennials and pesticide free to help sustain the pollinators, she said.

She said most visitors to her booth wanted to know if the plants were perennials and which plants attracted which pollinators.

The Pioneer Land Quilters, outfitted in pioneer-era clothing, were on hand this year as usual. They were hard at work on an Irish chain pattern quilt. Churches in the area often donate the tops, explained quilter Lois Clark.

With about 18 members, the group completes several quilts during the year and then donates them to an annual auction held at Pioneer Land during the La Porte County Fair. All proceeds benefit Pioneer Land at the fairgrounds; last year eight quilts were auctioned off. This year the group gained the distinction of also handling the quilting at Pioneer Village at the Indiana State Fair.

Four-year-old Laya Westphal and 2-year-old Carmen Jemison attended their first Pioneer Days on Sunday with their grandmother Liz Brown. They took a ride on the horse-drawn carriage, created candles and sampled the kettle corn. Their next stop was to make bead necklaces after they took a rest on the handy picnic tables found throughout the park.

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